ODD MEDICINES IN OLD CABINETS (September 27/96)

Remember all the mysterious bottles, jars and tins that were in the medicine cabinet when you were growing up? How often we were warned that the various salves, ointments and liquids in the cabinet were poisonous. Yet, when we got sick, the first thing our parents did was to go to the cabinet and take out some foul-smelling concoction that was either daubed on us or we had to swallow.

Like me, you probably had some kind of medicine cabinet in the kitchen or bathroom of your old home. And no matter how much you were warned, you probably checked its contents at every opportunity. The various containers with their strange names and odd odours were an attraction no kid could resist.

Even today, nearly half a century later, I can remember some of the things that were in our cabinet. Minards Linament, extract of wild strawberry, castor oil, mineral oil, zinc ointment, Epsom salts…. I recall the size and shape of the jars and bottles and I remember their odours and how some of them tasted. I remember being curious about what everything was used for and there were times when I found out and was sorry I did.

Epsom salts was a real puzzler. I remember my father occasionally drinking Epsom salts dissolved in a glass of warm water and also putting the salts in a bucket of hot water and soaking his feet. A drink and a foot bath? Well, other items in our medicine cabinet serve dual purposes as well. When we had colds, Minards liniment was rubbed into our chests and throats. I also remember my father drinking Minards mixed with warm water, which took some doing since the liniment was strong stuff.

Vinegar was another substance that around our home was put to many uses besides those of the kitchen. Vinegar was used in our old home as a disinfectant, a mouthwash and throat gargle and on mosquito bites. Cider vinegar was combined with other ingredients to treat illness. When we had colds when we were kids, the treatment was a drink with a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and water that had been boiled with chopped onions and sugar.

Vinegar has been used for generations as a folk medicine and, oddly enough, it appears that old-timers may have been on to something. “Ancient healers knew thousands of years ago that vinegar is the wonder elixir for a healthier life,” claims an ad I saw recently in Health Watch Canada. The ad offered a book with folk remedies and listed over a dozen conditions that can be treated with vinegar.

While it pays to be sceptical of claims in paid advertisements, serious researchers are looking at vinegar and wondering if it really does have curative powers.

While we never kept vinegar in our old medicine cabinet, like Minards Liniment and Epsom salts, it was always nearby ready to be used when illness struck. Some ingredients from the medicine cabinet brought relief. Then there were concoctions such as mustard plasters and liniment that seemed to have no purpose other than torturing a boy down with a cold.

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